The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

By Lindsey Apple | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
LEGACY OF SERVICE

“If any man wants the key to my heart,” Henry Clay proclaimed, “let him take the key of the Union.” Contemporaries and historians point to ambition as Clay’s defining force, but no one questions his love of the Union. Clay’s definition of service evolved throughout his career in politics. Going to Washington as a representative of Kentucky, he looked after the interests of the West, but he increasingly played the role of statesman as well as politician. In 1850, battered and bruised by political foes and friends and suffering from the tuberculosis that would take his life, his speeches on the compromise amounted to a plea to both North and South to love country enough to make sacrifices so it could remain whole.

A measure of a man’s true beliefs is better made when the advice is to his family rather than to politicians. Henry Clay clearly hoped his descendants would follow him into service to the nation. His most profound statement of duty to country came in a letter he wrote one of his many namesakes in 1845. In addition to his normal advice to honor the family name and, of course, to avoid dissipation, he wrote, “Recognize at all times the paramount right of your Country to your most devoted services, whether she treats you ill or well, and never let selfish views or interests predominate over the duties of patriotism.”1

Clay’s descendants did not misunderstand his message. Copies of the letter were passed among family members, and they knew he had written it shortly after the nation had turned its back on him in the presidential election of 1844. Reluctantly, because they knew the pain politics caused him, they sought to serve the nation as an honor to him. Clay descendants sought careers in military service and in politics. As the legacy of the family grew, their definition of service expanded as well. They developed a sense

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The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Cast of Characters x
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Marriage 9
  • Chapter 2 - Parenting 24
  • Chapter 3 - Building Legacies 43
  • Chapter 4 - A Deep Acquaintance with Grief 64
  • Chapter 5 - Going It Alone 84
  • Chapter 6 - Civil War, Family Struggles 108
  • Chapter 7 - A New Image 127
  • Chapter 8 - Legacy of Family 146
  • Chapter 9 - Legacy of Risk 186
  • Chapter 10 - Legacy of Service 210
  • Conclusion 246
  • Acknowledgments 253
  • Notes 257
  • Bibliography 303
  • Index 315
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